For the past decade, September has been the month when Apple unveils its latest iPhones. The company has made amazing advances in technology, year after year, propelling its business as Apple has become the most valuable company in the world.
But as the iconic device got progressively older and better, the tech giant shifted its focus to newer products with more runway for innovation: the Apple Watch and AirPods.
Apple on Wednesday unveiled a fitness-focused version of its wearable computer, the Apple Watch Ultra. Aimed at triathletes, distance runners, scuba divers, and outdoor enthusiasts, the $800 rugged model features a larger screen and improved durability. It also has an “action” button for easier use while wearing gloves, larger speakers for calls in windy conditions and a larger battery with up to 36 hours of battery life on a charge.
New features of Apple’s wireless earphones, AirPods Pro, include the ability to change the volume with the swipe of a finger.
While the iPhone still accounts for more than half of Apple’s sales, smartwatches and AirPods, which require an iPhone to function optimally, have helped the company build a fortress around its most important devices, deepening customer loyalty.
“The more Apple products you own, the more impossible it becomes to leave Apple to another player,” said Francisco Geronimo, vice president of hardware research at IDC, the market research firm. “Your entire life becomes part of one ecosystem.”
Apple used the iPhone, which has more than 1 billion users, to enter new markets and conquer unrelated business. Apple has helped revolutionize the financial industry with its credit card, the watch industry with its watch and the audio industry with its wireless headphones.
The Apple Watch Ultra is the latest example of how the company is expanding its sensors. It pushes Apple into a corner of the smartwatch market dominated by Garmin, which generates as much as $2.6 billion in sales for endurance competitors, according to IDC. Mr. Geronimo said that with Apple’s brand recognition and iPhone popularity, it should be able to carve out that share. It already claims nearly 51 percent of the smartwatch market, more than double its closest competitor, Samsung.
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Garmin said on Wednesday that Apple’s move into adventure smartwatches validated the business it had built.
“We will continue to push the boundaries of GPS-enabled technology and remain committed to creating innovative products designed for active lifestyle customers around the world,” said Christa Klaus, a spokeswoman for the company.
In addition to the fitness-focused watch, Apple has released an update to its traditional watch, the Series 8, with a body temperature-tracking sensor and a feature called “collision detection,” which can identify when an Apple Watch wearer is in a car crash and notify family and emergency services.
Apple unveiled the products at the Steve Jobs Theater on its campus in Cupertino, California, marking the first time it’s held a product event there since 2019. The venue was packed with journalists and employees, who celebrated the return to normal life by cheering as Tim. Cook, CEO of Apple, took the stage to present an informational announcement detailing the new products.
The new Apple Watch capabilities have overshadowed more modest updates to the iPhone lineup. Apple has released introductory and pricier versions of the iPhone 14 with 6.1-inch and 6.7-inch screens. Both models add satellite phone capabilities, allowing users to contact emergency services in rural areas and other remote environments so they can get help if they get lost while hiking or find themselves in another stressful situation.
The lowest-priced iPhone 14, which costs $800, features last year’s processor, but has upgraded front and rear cameras with larger sensors to take clearer photos in low light.
Apple kept the biggest design changes for the iPhone 14 Pro, which costs $999, the same price as last year’s flagship phone. The new phone eliminates the bump in its Face ID system in favor of a small hole that contains the front camera and displays alerts and notifications. The phone also has an “always-on” display to highlight information like the clock without unlocking the phone, and slimmer black borders around the screen.
Unlike the lower-priced iPhone 14, the Pro model features a new processor, the A16, which supports an improved camera with a larger sensor for better photos. It also supports new machine learning algorithms to improve image detail and sharpness.
Despite having some of the highest prices in the smartphone market, the iPhone has enjoyed a business revival during the pandemic. In its most recent fiscal year, Apple posted a record $192 billion in revenue from the iPhone alone, a 14-year-old device that has become known more for incremental improvements than revolutionary innovations.
Apple expects the iPhone 14 to maintain this momentum. Even as other smartphone makers cut production as the global economy slows, Apple plans to produce more phones than it did a year ago, according to Susquehanna International Group, a financial firm.
The company has expanded its customer base in recent years by offering seven iPhone models, ranging in price from $429 to over $1,500. Its luxury pricing has helped garner a wealthier clientele than competing smartphone makers, but about a third of iPhone buyers earn less than $50,000 a year, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, a technology research firm.
The iPhone 14 may be more popular for where it was made than for its new features. This year for the first time Apple will assemble some of its flagship phones in Indiapart of a strategy to reduce its dependence on China, where it produces the vast majority of its products.
Efforts to diversify its supply chain have gained greater urgency for Apple this year amid disruptions from the pandemic in China and escalating geopolitical tensions over the status of Taiwan.
“We’re in a post-iPhone maturity stage,” said Bob O’Donnell, founder of Technalysis Research. “It is getting more and more difficult to differentiate generations from device.”
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